10 Awesome and Cheap DIY Projects for Geeks

A blue bike with a milk crate and bungee cord basket.

Arndale / Getty Images

I've been going into craft mode lately. I think it stems from a combination of clinging to summer weekend fun and knowing the holidays are quickly approaching and I need to whip up some gifts. With that in mind, I've been doing some digging around in the TreeHugger archives since we often write about rad projects, and I found 10 crafts with a geeky edge that are all pretty darn cheap. If you're looking for something interesting to work on, these suggestions will keep you busy for a good while.

Free - Hipster Cassette Tape iPod Case

A Black cassette tape on a wood table.

Pablo Jeffs Munizaga - Fototrekking / Getty Images

This is an idea that came about way back in 2007 when Contexture whipped up an iPod case from old cassettes. In technology terms, that's long ago enough that it's difficult to recall for sure whether or not iPods and cassette tapes coexisted... a little like the Flintstones living with Dino. Regardless, this craft continues to be cool even in 2011 as hipsters still work hard at making cassettes cool again. If you're pack-rat enough to still have a cassette tape laying around (that you aren't sentimentally attached to) then we suggest taking some tools to it and seeing if you can fashion your own case for your more modern music machine. I, for one, am standing here with an X-Acto knife in my hand, eyeing a New Kids on the Block tape...

$3: Solar Emergency Radio

An Altoids tin on a wood surface.

Pablo Jeffs Munizaga - Fototrekking / Getty Images

Joshua Zimmerman is pretty much the unofficial King Of Altoids Gadget Projects. I first came across his stuff when browsing Instructables at the beginning of the year. His solar emergency radio caught my eye right away. He was able to craft this tiny thing in an Altoids tin for just $3. It's not only a fun project, but a smart one since it could come in handy during a disaster. You can gather the parts yourself and follow the instructions he sets, or even buy a kit with all the parts you need from his website BrownDogGadgets.

$4: Bike Panniers

A reusable bag on the back of a bike.

PeopleImages / Getty Images

If you're going to be a serious DIY geek, you have to have a way to haul parts from the salvage yard to your workbench. I used to have a milk crate strapped to the back of my bike with a bungee cord. Stylin, right? It was cheap, but not practical -- nor exactly what I'd call awesome. I love this project that shows you how to turn reusable grocery bags into sturdy saddlebags. If you need to take a break from soldering, this is a great project, and will make you look slightly less like a dumpster diver (which is, admittedly, also a cool past time though not stylish... just saying).

$6: Simple Solar Oven

A solar box cooking food using the sun on suburban property.

Erik Burton / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

We love solar ovens around here. Can't get enough of them. This is about as simple as they come, and a great way to get started trying to cook stuff on your porch and learn what the sun's rays can and can't accomplish when it comes to creating culinary delights. This easy project can be done for as little as $6.

$8: Ikea-Style Laptop Stand

ikea laptop photo
Aaron Kravitz / Lifehacker.com

I have a problem with over-heating laptops. Both my PC and my Mac can go from pleasantly chilled to ready-to-burst-into-flames faster than it takes for me to open any program other than my Internet browser. Ensuring my laptop gets enough air circulation is a top priority. Because of this, I always have an eye out for awesome DIY laptop stands. I've tried cardboard cut-outs, and right now I'm using the metal rack from a roasting pan (appropriate, no?) so I think my next project might just be this awesome-looking minimalist laptop stand. It's certainly cheap enough!

water being poured photo
Jenny Downing / Flickr 

$15 Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Wow - we just kicked it up a notch. Laptop stands are so 3rd grade compared to making your own hydrogen fuel cell on your dining room table (since this is appropriate for 4th graders, and all). Scitoys has a great tutorial guiding you through building one of these with stuff around your house. The only part that might actually cost money is if you don't happen to have platinum coated nickel wire, or pure platinum wire (and gee, who wouldn't have that in a junk drawer somewhere?). That will run you somewhere around $15. But other than that, this awesome, quick but oh-so-cool project can be done basically for free.

$18: Indestructible Digital Camera

When people ask me how I got into photography, I tell them the truth: I accidentally sent my digital point-n-shoot camera flying through the park one night. It didn't exactly land softly. And while it was at the repair shop getting fixed, I went off and bought a very expensive camera and have been single-handedly funding the camera industry ever since. Or at least it feels that way. A far cheaper solution to meeting your photography needs is investing in a batch of Sugru. A set of 12 minipacks of assorted colors is $18 and that should be enough for you to complete the protective camera hack above....and spare you from spending more than you need to on repairs or new gear. I have a package of Sugru sitting in front of me and I'm padding up my electronic gadgets one by one...

altoids charger photo

$20: Solar Charger for iPhones

It's another awesome one from Joshua Zimmerman of BrownDogGadgets -- this time a solar charger made specifically for iPhones. Zimmerman notes that while he has created a lot of these chargers for cell phones, Apple gadgets don't always play nice with generic USB chargers. So, this one should do the trick. If you own any Apple devices, you'll like this cool project.

aa solar charger photo

$30 Solar Charger for Cell Phones

If you don't have any Apple devices to worry about, then this is Zimmerman's more generic solution for charging up your cell phone with the power of the sun. It's a handy device to have in your purse, backpack, glove box, etc for some back-up electricity on a bright day.

solar oven photo
 Keith / Instrutables.com / SolarPoweredGardener

Not Super Cheap But Super Rad: Sun-Tracking Solar Oven

As I said, we love our solar ovens around here -- and this one is especially geeky. When you're done, your oven will automatically track the path of the sun so that you're cooking from sunrise to sunset. Instructable user Keith, aka SolarPoweredGardener, has provided the steps you need to make your very own. It's a fairly serious weekend warrior project, but after having completed the nine projects above, you'll be ready to tackle something big, right? Enjoy!